Wimbledon officials on Wednesday said they would ban Russian and Belarusian players from entering this year’s tournament due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Belarus’ support for the war.
Wimbledon became the first Grand Slam tennis event to prevent individual Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating. In a statement, Wimbledon officials confirmed that other tennis tournaments to be held in the UK this year would follow the same approach.
“Given the profile of the Championships in the UK and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of government, industry, sports and creative institutions to leverage Russia’s global influence with the most powerful resources,” said the spokesman. statement read.
“In the circumstances of such unwarranted and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to take any advantage of the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players in The Championships.”
Wimbledon, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, is scheduled for the end of June. The tournament left open the possibility in its statement to review its stance, stating that “if circumstances change materially between now and June, we will consider it and respond accordingly.”
Statement regarding Russian and Belarusian individuals at the 2022 Championships.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) Apr 20, 2022
The decision would block a number of high-ranking players. Four Russian men are in the top 30 of the ATP Tour, including No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, the reigning US Open men’s singles champion, although he is recovering from hernia surgery. Russia has five women in the top 40 of the WTA Tour rankings, led by No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus is ranked number 4 and was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year. Her compatriot Victoria Azarenka, a former No. 1, is ranked No. 18.
The ATP Tour strongly opposed the Wimbledon ban, calling it “unfair” and saying it “has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the match.”
“Our sport prides itself on operating under the fundamental principles of merit and fairness, with players competing as individuals to earn their place in tournaments based on the ATP rankings,” the ATP statement said. “Discrimination based on nationality also violates our agreement with Wimbledon which states that player input is based solely on ATP rankings. In consultation with our board and the member councils, possible follow-up steps as a result of this decision are now being considered.”
After the invasion began in February, professional tennis organizers were quick to ban the Russians and their Belarusian allies from team events such as the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup, both of which were won by Russian teams in 2021. The sport’s seven governing bodies jointly announced the ban on March 1.
Men’s and women’s tour events in Moscow later this season were canceled as well as some smaller events in Russia and Belarus. The International Tennis Federation also announced the suspension of the Russian Tennis Federation and the Belarusian Tennis Federation from ITF membership.
But Russian and Belarusian players are allowed to continue competing as individuals on the professional tours, albeit without any national identification. There are no more flags or countries next to their names on leaderboards, in draws, or in the published computer rankings.
But there are calls for a complete ban of several former and current Ukrainian players, including rising star Marta Kostyuk and former player Olga Savchuk, the captain of Ukraine’s Billie Jean King Cup team, which competed against the United States in Asheville, NL, last week.
“I think it’s only a matter of time,” Savchuk said in an interview. “I’m not the one making the decision, but I think they should be excluded as individuals as well. It can’t just be a sanction against 90 percent of the Russian people and 10 percent not.”
“It must be equal,” Savchuk added. “And I think it’s collective guilt.”
But while some other international sports, including athletics and figure skating, have barred individual Russian and Belarusian athletes from some competitions, professional tennis had taken a more conservative approach.
Alexandr Dolgopolov, a Ukrainian former tennis star who is now part of the Ukrainian military, expressed support for Wimbledon’s decision. “Yes, Russians have been responsible for the actions of their country, military and leaders for 20 years,” Dolgopolov said in a Twitter post.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s press secretary, expressed his dismay at the ban. “Our players are at the top of the world rankings and so the tournaments will suffer from their suspension,” Peskov told reporters during a regular briefing. “Again, it is unacceptable to take athletes hostages of political prejudice, intrigue and hostile actions against our country. We can only regret that. I just wish the guys would do everything they could to make sure they stay in shape.”
Officials from the men’s and women’s tours have argued that the Russian and Belarusian players should not be blamed for their country’s invasion or policies, pointing out that several leading players, including Russian stars Andrey Rublev, were the No. 8 in men’s singles, and Pavlyuchenkova, have spoken out against the war.
“I strongly believe that once again these individual athletes should not be the ones who are being punished by the decisions of an authoritarian leadership that is clearly doing terrible, reprehensible things,” said Steve Simon, the head of the WTA, in an interview with the BBC last month. “But if that happens, which is part of the overall strategy of making Russia and Russian citizens pay the consequences for the decision their government has made, then it’s not something we support.”
Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said in the Wimbledon statement: “We recognize that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime.”
Wimbledon, the oldest Grand Slam tournament, will likely be an outlier at this point. The French Open, which starts next month and is the next Grand Slam event on the calendar, has not indicated it plans to ban individual players. Nor the US Open, which will be held in New York in late August and early September. For now, regular tour events – such as this week’s events in Barcelona, Spain; Belgrade, Serbia; Istanbul; and Stuttgart, Germany – continue with Russians and Belarusians in their draws.
But Wimbledon, which starts in London on June 27, is under considerable pressure from the British government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to take a stronger stance. Nigel Huddleston, Britain’s sports secretary, told a parliamentary hearing last month that Russian players like Medvedev may need to provide “guarantees” that they will not support President Vladimir V. Putin in order to play at Wimbledon.
But the tournament, arguably still the most prestigious in the sport, has apparently decided not to require players to denounce their governments out of concern it could put them or their families in a precarious situation. A ban, while not part of Wimbledon officials’ initial thinking, would deter players from making such a choice.
Wimbledon has not ruled out individual athletes from certain countries since the aftermath of World War II, when players from Germany, Japan and other countries were barred from participating in the tournament.
Ivan Nechepurenko reporting contributed.